“Hate is so exhausting; I regret I give you the trouble of it. May I ask why you favor me with it?”
“You may!” thundered his father, while his hawk’s eyes flashed their glittering fire. “You are like the man I cursed living and curse dead. You look at me with Alan Bertie’s eyes, you speak to me with Alan Bertie’s voice; I loved your mother, I worshiped her; but—you are his son, not mine!”
The secret doubt, treasured so long, was told at last. The blood flushed Bertie’s face a deep and burning scarlet; he started with an irrepressible tremor, like a man struck with a shot; he felt like one suddenly stabbed in the dark by a sure and a cruel hand. The insult and the amazement of the words seemed to paralyze him for the moment, the next he recovered himself, and lifted his head with as haughty a gesture as his father’s, his features perfectly composed again, and sterner than in all his careless, easy life they ever yet had looked.
“You lie, and you know you lie. My mother was pure as the angels. Henceforth you can be only to me a slanderer who has dared to taint the one name holy in my sight.”
And without another word, he turned and went out of the chamber. Yet, as the door closed, old habit was so strong on him that, even in his hot and bitter pain, and his bewildered sense of sudden outrage, he almost smiled at himself. “It is a mania; he does not know what he says,” he thought. “How could I be so melodramatic? We were like two men at the Porte St. Martin. Inflated language is such bad form!”
But the cruel stroke had not struck the less closely home, and gentle though his nature was, beyond all forgiveness from him was the dishonor of his mother’s memory.
After A Richmond dinner.
It was the height of the season, and the duties of the Household were proportionately and insupportably heavy. The Brigades were fairly worked to death, and the Indian service, in the heat of the Afghan war, was never more onerous than the campaigns that claimed the Guards from Derby to Ducal.
Escorts to Levees, guards of honor to Drawing rooms, or field-days in the Park and the Scrubs, were but the least portion of it. Far more severe, and still less to be shirked, were the morning exercise in the Ride; the daily parade in the Lady’s Mile; the reconnaissances from club windows, the vedettes at Flirtation Corner; the long campaigns at mess-breakfasts, with the study of dice and baccarat tactics, and the fortifications of Strasburg pate against the invasions of Chartreuse and Chambertin; the breathless, steady charges of Belgravian staircases when a fashionable drum beat the rataplan; the skirmishes with sharpshooters of the bright-eyed Irregular Lancers; the foraging duty when fair commanders wanted ices or strawberries at garden parties; the ball-practice at Hornsey Handicaps;